|A fine specimen of Monkey-puzzle tree in Sooke, B.C.|
The mild climate of Vancouver Island allows gardeners to grow exotic trees that would struggle elsewhere in Canada. The Monkey-puzzle (Araucaria araucana) is one such non-native tree. To see one is to understand how a monkey, or anything else, would be puzzled trying to climb its branches. Although beautiful, this is one spiky, prehistoric tree that you might want to view from a couple steps away.
|Detail of branches and spiked leaves|
The monkey-puzzle is native to South America. It colonizes disturbed areas after they have burned. In its natural environment at lower elevations of the Andes, the monkey-puzzle is well suited to grow on the slopes of dormant volcanoes.
Monkey-puzzle are either male or female and seeds are not produced until the trees are 30 - 40 years old. The cones are large spiky spheres that take two years to mature. Mike Dirr, author of Trees and Shrubs for Warm Climates, says that monkey-puzzle cones are "about twice the size of a hand-grenade and hurt even worse".
|New cone emerging next to a mature cone|
|Seeds are edible|
Since this unique conifer was discovered by Europeans in the 1800s, it has been introduced to warm, wet climates across the globe. They can be found in gardens across England, the Mediterranean, and up the west coast of North America all the way to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). Some excellent examples can be found right here in the Victoria region, including the one in Sooke pictured above.